Contra dancers, take note: This month’s dance, normally held the second Saturday of every month at the Woodstock Community Center, will instead be held at the Ashokan Center, located at 477 Beaverkill Road in Olivebridge, following the annual MapleFest. It’ll also be a special night, given that Jay Ungar and Molly Mason themselves will be accompanying the dancers. The contra dances will be preceded by a half-hour of waltzing, starting at 7:30 p.m. The cost is $10 general admission, $9 for members of Friends of Fiddle & Dance and half-price for kids under age 12. Peter Blue will be calling the dances, and Mooncoin will also perform.
Hosted by Friends of Fiddle & Dance, a nonprofit organization founded in part by Ungar and Mason, the dances are not just a great way to connect with a traditional folk art but also a ton of fun – and good exercise to boot. Neophytes who would like to try out the contra dances are also welcome: The callers often walk the dancers through the dance first, and “It’s a friendly group of people,” noted Barbara Mermell, a member of Friends of Fiddle & Dance. Mermell noted that the more familiar square dances are native to the South, while contra dances – done in two facing lines – are from New England. The core group of monthly dancers, numbering approximately 100, comes from as far away as New York City on occasion, she said.
If you’re going to make the trip out to the Ashokan Center, it would be a crime to miss the MapleFest, which starts at 11 a.m. on the same day, with a pancake breakfast topped with maple syrup made from sap tapped from trees on the property and locally made sausages. You can try your hand at maple-syrup-making, including tapping the trees. Other traditional artisan skills that will be demonstrated are blacksmithing, tinsmithing and broommaking.
You can also visit the lovely local attractions, including Cathedral Gorge and a historic wooden covered bridge. At 1 p.m. Laurie and Ira McIntosh will perform musical folktales, followed at 2 p.m. by Ungar and Mason: creative artists who have not just succeeded in preserving traditional folk music, but also put their own inspirational spin on the tunes.
Following the MapleFest, which winds down at 4 p.m., is a French Canadian jam session; fiddle-players are encouraged to bring their instruments and join in. The jam will be followed by a potluck dinner in the Main Lodge starting at 6 p.m. Participants are encouraged to bring a maple-themed dish; there’ll be a hearty soup and beverages.